DIANE (2019)

March 31, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. In a film that is both grounded in realism as well as playing like an ode to underappreciated character actresses, our wonderment turns to full comprehension once we realize this is the work of Kent Jones. Mr. Jones is one of today’s foremost authorities on film, having been a respected film critic, served as director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and delivered a tremendous documentary showcasing the conversations of two more publicized film experts with 2005’s HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. In other words, he’s a man who loves cinema and has both a trained eye and an instinct for what makes a film worth watching.

Mary Kay Place (THE BIG CHILL, 1983) is Diane. Our first reaction upon seeing her is that she has the well-worn, hangdog look of a woman burdened by life. As we follow her around, we soon learn that’s very true and that there is even more to her story. Diane is the kind of person who, rather than keep a list of things to do, keeps a list of people for whom she has to do things. And there are many on her list. Chief among these are her dying cousin Donna (Diedre O’Connell) and her drug-addicted son Brian (Jake Lacy). The self-imposed penance Diane pays all day each day stems from a story referred to as “The Cape” … a long ago act of betrayal and indiscretion that has clung to Diane ever since.

The rest of the cast is filled with faces you’ll recognize (and names you can’t recall), many for their work in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, including: Estelle Parsons (Best Supporting Oscar winner for BONNIE AND CLYDE, 1967), Andrea Martin (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, 2002), Joyce Van Patten (sister of Dick, ST ELMO’S FIRE, 1985), and Glynnis O’Connor (ODE TO BILLY JOE, 1976). But don’t mistake this for some nostalgic tribute – each of these women offer up exactly what’s needed for their respective characters. It’s a joy to behold their work – and easy to take for granted.

This little Massachusetts community is tight-knit and speaks freely on the lives of each other. There are few secrets. Everyone asks Diane about Brian – her son that lies to her face, acts perturbed when she tries to help, forces her to listen to bible-thumping, and finally comes clean on why he’s treated her the way he has. Filmmaker Kent’s first narrative feature is an organic character driven story about aging, carrying a burden, striving to make amends, and suppressing true feelings by constantly serving others. When Diane writes in her journal, “My loved ones are gone and I’m left to be”, it takes her (and us) closer to her soul than any soup kitchen possibly could. Casserole dishes can only heal so much, and a lead role for a respected actress serves us all.

watch the trailer:


MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 (2016)

March 24, 2016

big fat2 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 14 years since the Portokolas family took over movie theatres, the box office, and casual conversation in most every social setting. I’ll readily admit that, despite my leanings toward more serious film fare, I was a huge fan of the 2002 surprise mega-hit. The movie was refreshing and observational, with commentary on proud cultures and helicopter parenting – but mostly it was funny. Bundt cakes and Windex will forever be a part of movie lore … as this sequel reminds us.

Given the Hollywood proliferation of sequels, re-makes and re-imaginings, the only thing surprising here is that it took so long for Wedding number 2. And yes, that is the only surprise. Nia Vardalos obviously wrote this script as a love letter to the fans of the original. It fits like a warm blanket – comfortable and familiar. The setting, the characters and the jokes … all familiar … yet still pleasant and easy to watch.

With that title, we know we are in for another Greek wedding. However, Toula (Ms. Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) have one daughter – 17 year old Paris (Elena Kampouris), and her big decision is whether to stay local for college or leave Chicago and the family for NYU. Since the wedding is not for the daughter, it falls to Toula’s parents. It seems Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) have been living in sin for 50 years – all because the priest never signed the marriage certificate. Let the histrionics begin!

Director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned Devine) stays true to the spirit of the Vardalos script and legacy, and much of the movie plays like one big inside joke for fans of the original. Windex make an appearance in each of the three acts, and we get a shot of decorated Bundt cakes, some exaggerated make-up and hair styles, and a steady stream of family members who just can’t help their propensity for being loud and up in everyone’s business.

Most of the original cast returns. Andrea Martin is back as scene-stealer Aunt Voula, and Mama-Yiayia (Bess Meisler) gets her usual “pop-ups” plus a touching moment in the wedding spotlight. New faces include Alex Wolff (brother of Nat, son of Polly Draper) as Paris’ prom date; and Rita Wilson (also a producer with her husband Tom Hanks) and John Stamos have a couple of scenes as a Greek couple; while Mark Margolis (“Breaking Bad”, “Better Call Saul”) appears as Gus’ brother from the homeland.

Nostalgia and familiarity are the keys here, and there is no reason to be overly-critical of a movie that is so pleasant and light-hearted. “There you go!”

watch the trailer: